Last week, a 2014 lawsuit brought by a Michael Jackson fan against Sony Music and the singer’s estate— which alleges that three songs on the posthumously released “Michael” album do not actually feature Jackson’s vocals — rose into public view when an onlooker misunderstood a comment by an attorney to mean that Sony had admitted that Jackson did not perform on the song. After online articles reported the inaccurate conclusion arising from the comment, reps for the estate and Sony quickly moved to clarify the matter and deny any such statement.
On Tuesday, three appeals court judges ruled in the estate and Sony’s favor, essentially removing the two parties from the class-action suit, which was brought by fan Vera Serova in 2014. Tuesday’s ruling — on an appeal brought by the estate and Sony — ruled that because the estate and Sony did not know for certain whether Jackson sang on the three songs, the album’s cover and promotional materials were not strictly commercial speech, and thus were not applicable for Serova’s charges.
“We had a total victory in the appellate court in the Vera Serova Class Action matter,” said Howard Weitzman, an attorney for the estate, in a statement.
However, it does not clear up the long-disputed issue of whether or not Jackson actually sang the songs — “Breaking News,” “Monster” and “Keep Your Head Up” — which were reportedly recorded in 2007 with songwriter/producers Edward Cascio and James Porte. Fans have long claimed that an American singer named Jason Malachi actually sang the three songs in question, and he purportedly admitted as much in a 2011 Facebook post, according to TMZ, although his manager later denied it, claiming the post was faked.
“Because [Sony Music, MJJ Productions and the Jackson estate] lacked actual knowledge of the identity of the lead singer on [“Breaking News,” “Monster” and “Keep Your Head Up”], they could only draw a conclusion about that issue from their own research and the available evidence,” court documents read, according to NPR. “Under these circumstances, [Sony Music, MJJ Productions and the Jackson estate’s] representations about the identity of the singer amounted to a statement of opinion rather than fact.”
According to the lawsuit, in November 2010 Sony stated “We have complete confidence in the results of our extensive research as well as the accounts of those who were in the studio with Michael that the vocals on the new album are his own.” Howard Weitzman, an attorney for Jackson’s estate, released a statement citing multiple engineers, musicians, vocal directors, executives and musicologists as concluding that the vocals were Jackson’s.
Serova’s case against Cascio and Porte and the production company Angelikson Productions is ongoing.